Bush should sign modernized GI bill
It's ironic, on the eve of Memorial Day, that President Bush is threatening to veto a new 21st Century GI Bill, passed by 75 percent of the Senate and more than two-thirds of the House.
Sponsored by Sens. Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb, both decorated veterans, the bill would provide the full cost of tuition at public universities in each state, as well as pay $1,000 a year for fees and books and provide a housing stipend. National Guard and Reserve members, vital to today's all-volunteer army, would qualify for the full benefit after serving at least three years.
Former director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, and former Nebraska governor and senator Bob Kerrey make some good points in an opinion piece published in Roll Call, the capitol hill publication.
Like the authors, we agree that Washington is sorely in need of restored fiscal discipline. But as they point out, it goes both ways.
Insisting on a pay-as-you-go rules in the House "says to our service members that we will send them to fight and die in a war whose funding has not been offset, even as we insist that their educational benefits must adhere to the strictest PAYGO rules of the congressional budget process."
It's cynical for the administration to insist on offsets for the 21st Century GI Bill when there were no such savings connected to the stimulus check most of us have been receiving.
Ridge and Kerrey also point out that Congress and the president agreed to $75 billion in deficit spending for a year of relief from the alternative minimum tax, and that the cost of the post 9/11 GI bill in the first year, by contrast "will equal far less than one week of the cost of the Iraq War."
Providing veterans with a good education is a great investment, boosting the standard of living of thousands of Americans who might otherwise struggle to maintain a middle class standard of living. Experts say the post World War II GI bill created $7 in new tax revenue for every $1 spent on education.
Opponents worry that creating a new GI bill that is too attractive may result in more difficulty in retaining members of the military.
We disagree. Benefits to pay back service personnel for their sacrifice can only make serving in the military that much more attractive. Taking care of our veterans is only one of the many costs we must pay for involvement in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
President Bush should sign the 21st Century GI bill legislation. And, if he vetoes it, he should be overridden.